Windsor to Brooklyn – the Hawkesbury River ride

Day 1: Windsor to Wiseman’s Ferry

Date: 2nd April 2010

We planned this Easter weekend ride with our friends Bel and Dan in 2010. From Sydney we caught the train to Windsor and left about midday towards the Sackville ferry. Not long after the ferry we turned left onto River Road which followed the Hawkesbury until Wiseman’s Ferry. It’s a nice ride (as most riverside routes are); undulating but no daunting climbs. There’s a lot of waterskiing in this part of the river, and the riverside is dotted with caravan parks if you want to camp anywhere along there.

The Sackville Ferry

The Sackville Ferry

A man who was chatting to us over his front fence recommended we go to Del Rio, which is a “riverside resort” with camping and a bar, not far over the river from the Webbs Creek ferry. It wasn’t the most peaceful location, but it did have hot showers and a bar. We were cooking our own, but the bar also did food. I wouldn’t really recommend it if you are looking for something peaceful.

Day 2: Wiseman’s Ferry to Mangrove Mountain

Date: 3rd April 2010

In the morning we went back over the river on the Webbs Creek ferry, then again on Wiseman’s ferry. Wiseman’s Ferry Road follows the river downstream for a while until Spencer where we had lunch. Then it leaves the river and heads up Mangrove Creek. This is an OK ride until the road leaves the creek and heads up towards Mangrove Mountain. There are a few kilometres of a constant hard climb before it settles into a bit of an easier climb. Check the elevation profile at the top of the post from about 95km – it’s steep.

Even though the distance covered was short for a day of riding it did take us most of the day, although we regularly stopping for coffee breaks and the like in the morning.

There’s a shop at Mangrove Mountain where we bought a drink and some water and asked about camping. There are no caravan parks or campsites around, but she recommended the football field which was a short ride up the road. This turned out to be ideal – nice grass to pitch on, quiet, and fairly secluded. After a good meal, some wine, and some very tasty scotch supplied by Dan we slept well.

Day 3: Mangrove Mountain to Brooklyn

Date: 4th April 2010

We had camped quite close to the top of the hill. It’s about 4km to Central Mangrove, then almost all downhill from there for the rest of the way. We stopped at Peats Ridge for delicious hot crossed buns and a bad chai latte, then enjoyed a quick downhill run (some of it quite fun) to the Pacific Highway and on down to Brooklyn. At Brooklyn we had a couple of celebratory beers and fish and chips for lunch, before catching the train home.

Dan, Bel and Wally on Wiseman's Ferry

Dan, Bel and Wally on Wiseman's Ferry

The route we took for this ride came from http://www.cycleaustralia.info/cycling/hawkesbury.htm. It also marks a side trip to St Albans, which would probably be worth it. There’s an excellent pub there.

Even though there were shops along the route we took most of our food with us as it was Easter, but there wasn’t really a need as most shops seemed to be open even on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I would recommend carrying a fair bit of water. We had no problems refilling in cafes generally, but at Mangrove Mountain (at the top of a long climb) the only water to be found was bought at the shop.

For camping, there are a plethora of caravan parks along the Hawkesbury, but after that not much. There is the Mill Creek campsite in Dharug National Park which is nice, but I would recommend the football field we used at Mangrove Mountain, as Mill Creek is a few kilometres off the route. The football field is on a side road, but signposted from the main road. Other than that there are probably a heap of places you can free camp in Ourimbah State Forest and the like.

It was quite scenic for nearly the entire way. Where we weren’t following the river we were either too busy climbing to notice anything, or going through state forest or national parks. There were some great views from the Pacific Highway.

With an early start and a late finish you could easily do this as a two day trip.

Taking bikes on trains, buses and ferries in Croatia and Slovenia

It’s possible to take bikes on trains, buses, and some ferries in Croatia.

The trains didn’t seem too bad although we didn’t feel particularly welcome. The rail network in Croatia doesn’t have a lot of coverage though. As with Slovenia, you might have a bit of trouble getting on the trains with a bike if it’s particularly crowded.

Buses will accept bikes, but only when they’re in the mood, and it’s up to the driver. You have to wait until the bus arrives, and if you’re rejected try the next one. If the bus is not very full you have a good chance, so try not to travel in peak times. The charge for taking a bike is considerably more than for the same size of luggage, as well.

Car ferries are great for bikes, but the passenger-only catamarans won’t take them. There’s no reason why not, so, as with most things, this might be negotiable. You may also be able to negotiate with tour operators and the like if they are travelling to an island you want to go to. To be sure ahead of time, check that the route you want to take is serviced by a car ferry. Also, in some cases the cost of a bike on a ferry is more than the cost of a person.

In Slovenia we never tried using buses, but we used trains fairly regularly and never had a problem. We weren’t travelling in a peak time though, and I understand you can be rejected by the train conductor if he thinks it is too full.

In general, travelling outside of peak season will give you a good chance of getting onto public transport with your bike.

We never had to box or bag the bike on any trains, buses or ferries. Just take the front wheel off for the buses.

Wrapup of Croatia and the entire trip

The traffic in Croatia was not as bike friendly as in Slovenia, and our couple of rides along the busy coastal road weren’t particularly pleasant. This basically limited us to travelling the islands. That’s OK, as Croatia has fantastic islands. It’s generally easy to travel by ferry between islands, but for some reason you can only take bikes on car ferries and not the people-only catamarans, and this limited our movements considerably. Ferries can also be quite expensive for bikes.

The heat was often a bit too much to ride in, so opting to spend four or so hours in the middle of the day lazing about in the shade somewhere, and only riding morning and late afternoon was great. The time off can easily be wasted on delicious gelato, beer, and enjoying the seaside towns.

Krk as a town was a highlight – beautiful, but small and relatively quiet. For cycling the highlight was probably the twin islands of Cres and Losinj.

Although the big cities are great in themselves, as a cyclist it’s difficult to like them. Dubrovnik in particular is a very beautiful city, but is more suited to the normal tourist than cyclists. On another cycling trip I would gladly skip the big cities and spend the entire time on the islands, then visit Montenegro via Trebinje. The inland route via Bosnia seems it would be much more pleasant and easy than the coastal road.

Finding campgrounds in Croatia was easier than in Slovenia, but they were usually rocky and hard ground, and we came home with a few bent pegs. In some cases we used rocks more than pegs to anchor the tent.

We didn’t cycle as much distance as we intended. In Slovenia we were limited mostly by bad weather, and in Croatia it was our limited ferry options and our unwillingness to ride the main coastal highway, and the heat. What we did was very enjoyable though. We also improved quite a lot as cyclists over the three weeks, and were in pretty good shape by the end.

Apart from the unusually high rainfall we suffered, Slovenia was a better country for cycling. It’s less touristy and more bike friendly than Croatia, and there were areas that sound great for cycling that we didn’t visit, such as the Krka river.

Anyway, it was a great trip. I think our only mistake was to try to fit in too many places which were far apart, meaning we had to cover quite a lot of distance on other forms of transport in order to fit them in. Catching trains, buses and planes is so much less fun and rewarding than cycling, and considerably more expensive. It would be better to cover less distance and be cycling nearly all of the time, even if it means missing a lot of the big drawcards of a region. There are so many small things which will make up for it.

Slovenia and Croatia: Days 22 and 23 – Dubrovnik and Tallinn

Plane Dubrovnik to Tallinn

6th and 7th June 2008

Our last day in Dubrovnik before heading home was spent looking for bike boxes. As there are a total of zero specialist bike shops in the city and a similar number of helpful people in the sports shops that did sell bikes, this turned out to be not possible. Estonian Air’s policy is that all bikes must be in a box. When we called them they said they would accept them bagged, just not take responsibility for any damage. Eventually we found some huge sheets of plastic from a gardening shop to wrap them up in. This is far easier and more practical than a box anyway, as it made packing the bikes a simple task, and we could fold them away for reuse later. After this experience I would definitely recommend bagging rather than boxing. Just take off the wheels, turn the handlebars, and remove the pedals, just as you would if packing in a box. Bike are relatively sturdy and are likely to survive the trip, even with baggage handlers roughing them up a bit.

We had a mid morning flight back to Tallinn, and there our trip ended.

Slovenia and Croatia: Day 21 – Trebinje

Cycled Dubrovnik to Trebinje and back

Date: 5th June 2008

We took a day off from our lazing about in Dubrovnik to make a side trip to nearby Trebinje in Bosnia. Since it was just a day trip we didn’t have much weight so it was to be a relatively easy ride. Leaving Dubrovnik wasn’t so easy because it was quite a long steep hill, and a very busy road. There was a shoulder which made it, although still a little frightening, at least managable.

About 4km out of Dubrovnik we turned off the main highway onto a small road which led to Trebinje. At first we thought we were lost because the road was completely empty, and we thought it was a major road into a different country and so should be busy. There were a couple of quarries around but little else. We were able to confirm we were on the right track though and continued on our merry way up the winding road. The views back to Croatia and the Adriatic were quite spectacular.

View from the pass over the mountains between Dubrovnik and Trebinje, near the Croatia/Bosnia border.

Because of the history of unfriendliness between Croatia and Bosnia I was expecting the border security to be quite tough, but it was the most relaxed I’ve ever seen. The Croatian border waved us out, then when we got to the Bosnian security I was taking too long to find Millerine’s passport, so they sent us through without checking. Obviously two non-slavs on bicycles don’t pose much of a threat.

The rest of the trip to Trebinje was uneventful. The road continued winding up to the top of the hill, then it was a gradually graded 15km ride down into Trebinje. In between there was very little other than abandoned and destroyed buildings, road kill, and only about four or five cars. It was very stark. It looked as though it had been hit hard by the war and never recovered. The view of Bosnia was nothing but mountains. If I were to ride to Montenegro I would go via Bosnia though. It’s a much more pleasant ride than along the busy coastal road.

Trebinje was a very normal city, not a beautiful town like we were getting used to. There was an old town, but not much of one. It had other things going for it though. We were the only tourists in town, it was very cheap, and everyone we met was helpful and friendly. I got out fifty konvertibilnih maraka (the very interestingly named currency) after judging its spending power by looking at cafe beer prices, but it went a very long way. We went to the markets and bought a whole heap of vegetables, then had what for us was a gourmet restaurant lunch (the best food for the trip), and still had enough to buy some food and alcohol supplies for a couple of days.

In general there wasn’t much to see, but after being in overtouristy, unfriendly Croatia for so long the friendliness of the people of Trebinje was very welcome.

On the way back the border security just waved us through. We enjoyed more of the view of the Adriatic, and were back in time to cook a delicious vegetable soup from the produce we had picked up at the markets in Trebinje.

Slovenia and Croatia: Days 19 and 20 – Dubrovnik

Cycled Milna to Stari Grad
Ferry Stari Grad to Dubrovnik

Dates: 3rd and 4th June 2008

The ride back to the ferry at Stari Grad was fun because once you get through the tunnel at the top of the island it’s all downhill, and we knew the road well by now.

Again we shared the ferry with Pat and Ron, although they got off at Korčula and we had decided to go straight through to Dubrovnik. The view of Korčula old town from the ferry was almost enough to cause regret for not stopping off there. The rest of the island didn’t look all that exciting as we travelled down it’s coastline though, so I settled into reading Kafka’s The Castle and drinking beer on deck.

Dubrovnik is a fantastic city. The old town is as beautiful as any I’ve seen (or more so), is large, and the walls are very well preserved. It also has hundreds of stray cats. The rest of the city outside of the old town has some character and a good vibe as well. The only problem is the hills and the lack of bike shops. Also don’t go if you disapprove of tourists.

Dubrovnik's shiny street

One of the gates to the old town

A cat sleeping on the wall by the sea. One of many.

We stayed at Camping Solitudo, which is a campground near the suburb of Lapad, a few kilometres from the city centre. It’s a very comfortable place, particularly as there was a little market which sold our staple diet of the trip – bread, vegies, beer and wine. It was ideal for settling down for a few days, which is exactly what we intended to do, apart from our day trip to Bosnia the next day.